The fate of a bill to legalise Amsterdam-style cannabis cafes in California is now in the hands of Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom after passing in the Senate with bi-partisan support.

Under the bill, cannabis-only dispensaries would be able to offer non-cannabis food and drinks subject to local government approval although alcohol would still be prohibited along with tobacco smoking.

It would also allow dispensaries to host and sell tickets to live music and other events.

Currently, despite the legalisation of recreational use in California since 2016, retail outlets – or ‘dispensaries’ – remain pharmacy-like businesses that only allow customers to purchase cannabis products at a counter. While consuming on-site is technically legal, selling non-cannabis products is not.

Following revisions made on its way through the legislative process, the bill now excludes hemp-based food and drinks from the definition of ‘non-cannabis’ products, meaning they could not be sold, and non-cannabis items must be stored and displayed separately.

California could be on course to rival Amsterdam as a cannabis tourism destination (Photo by Tamara Malaniy on Unsplash)

The bill’s sponsor, Democrat Matt Haney said if passed, it would boost the local economy and help small businesses. 

“Lots of people want to enjoy legal cannabis in the company of others,” he said

“And many people want to do that while sipping coffee, eating a scone, or listening to music. There’s absolutely no good reason from an economic, health, or safety standpoint that the state should make that illegal. 

“If an authorised cannabis retail store wants to also sell a cup of coffee and a sandwich, we should allow cities to make that possible and stop holding back these small businesses.

“To be clear, we’re not saying that coffee shops should be allowed to sell cannabis. We’re saying that cannabis shops should be allowed to sell coffee. 

“It shouldn’t be illegal for an existing cannabis business to move away from only selling marijuana and instead have the opportunity to grow, and create jobs, by offering coffee or live jazz.”

Governor Newsom hasn’t yet said publicly whether he will sign the bill into law, but as a long-time supporter of cannabis legalisation, it is thought likely he will. If that proves to be the case, it will come into effect on January 1, 2024. 

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers in Washington have moved to scupper plans to reclassify cannabis as a lower-risk drug at the federal level.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently told the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) that cannabis should be reclassified from Schedule 1 – drugs with no medically accepted use and a high potential for abuse – to Schedule III – those with a moderate-to-low potential for physical and psychological dependence.

However, in a letter to the DEA, 14 Republicans – led by Senator James Lankford and Representative Pete Sessions – have urged the department to ignore calls for change.

They claimed: “Any effort to reschedule marijuana should be based on proven facts and science – not popular opinion, changes in state laws, or the preferred policy of an administration.

“It is irresponsible for HHS to recommend that marijuana be removed from Schedule I. It would also be irresponsible for DEA to act on this recommendation.”

And in New York, the Cannabis Control Board has voted to allow non-social equity applicants to apply for licences to cultivate, manufacture, and sell adult-use cannabis.

The move would allow major medicinal cannabis companies in the state to enter the market. When New York legalised adult use in 2021, it restricted licence applications to those with previous cannabis convictions.

Prior to launching Cannabiz, Martin was co-founder and CEO of Asia-Pac’s leading B2B media and marketing information brand Mumbrella, overseeing its sale to Diversified Communications in 2017. A journalist...

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